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Fox Sports: "Zach Arnold's Fight Opinion site is one of the best spots on the Web for thought-provoking MMA pieces."

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Is Fedor’s growing popularity in the States boxing him into a corner on retirement?

By Zach Arnold | February 17, 2011

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I promise that this article won’t focus singularly on that question. There’s a lot of points to go through here, but let’s start with the situation as it currently stands. Strikeforce did really well for ratings on Showtime last Saturday night and the parties involved in that event all have been… encouraging… Fedor to stay active for the promotion.

That’s your starting point for this passage from yesterday’s Sherdog radio show:

JACK ENCARNACAO: “Isn’t Fedor more interesting now that he’s lost twice than he was when he was beating everyone he faced? I mean, there’s a drama in seeing when someone’s going to beat Fedor but isn’t it a little bit more interesting to see what he does after he loses? Don’t you want to watch him more in a way?”

TJ DE SANTIS: “In a lot of ways, yeah, because it’s a fresh storyline. I mean, when Fedor was dominant, it was, oh, look at this ice cold Russian who just comes out and lamps people and then smiles and says, you know, three or four word answers in the post-fight. Now, it’s like, this guy might be retire. Like he was the man for so many years and he has fallen, he has stumbled, and he didn’t get back up in his first fight out like everyone thought he would and, you know, I mean any time Fedor Emelianenko fights, I’m going to be, you know, compelled and intrigued and want to watch. But now I’m way more interested in what the man has to say.”

JACK ENCARNACAO: “Yeah, absolutely, because he’s… especially with this kind of tension that seems to be going on between what he really wants to do with his career and what, you know, Strikeforce and M-1 want him to do.”

TJ DE SANTIS: “Coker and Vadim Finkelchtein, yeah, I mean those guys are like, ‘oh, he’ll fight again, oh he’ll fight again.’ Uh, yeah did you not just see what he said in the cage?”

JACK ENCARNACAO: “Not up to him.”

TJ DE SANTIS: “Yeah. And, you know, I talked to him Wednesday and there was the pre-fight interview up at Sherdog.com … but you know in the interview, he brought up age and that was before obviously he lost to Antonio Silva. But retirement I don’t think is necessarily on his mind because he’s lost his last two fights. I think it’s something that was there to begin with. I mean, this is something that I mean, let’s be honest, Fedor is not the guy that needs to fight. He’s not a competitive person that, you know, is not going to feel good about himself at the end of the day if he doesn’t compete. This is something he does, he happens to be incredibly good at it, and when it’s all over we’re not going to see a Brett Favre situation where he’s going to waver back-and-forth and make a return. I fully believe that when Fedor Emelianenko takes off his gloves for the last time and he says it’s for the last time, it’s probably going to be the last time.”

JACK ENCARNACAO: “I don’t know what to make of it. I mean, now he’s totally backpedaled. … There have been interviews out of Russia that have been translated to say that, you know, I spoke too soon, I’m coming back, and you know they’re saying not only could he be an alternate if someone gets hurt in the tournament but Scott Coker has gone ahead and said it would be interesting to see the loser of Werdum/Overeem face Fedor next. I mean they want to satisfy this contract, they want to take a guy who drew these kinds of numbers…”

TJ DE SANTIS: “That’s pressure. That’s him being pressured, I think, personally.”

JACK ENCARNACAO: “It could be. I mean, he certainly wouldn’t be the first prize fighter, you know, to have the kind of reputation and stature that he has to be pressured into fighting longer than maybe he wants to. It’s just a reality of the game and with these numbers now, let me tell you right now, I mean if anyone’s going to point to one guy that’s drawing these numbers, it’s going to be Fedor. He’s at his hottest right now, okay, from a public interesting standpoint. It’s tough for people to process that because they think an unbeatable fighter is endlessly appealing to the public when really it’s maybe too one-dimensional, there’s not enough there, there’s not enough subtlety, there’s not enough context, there’s not enough complexity, there’s less storylines, there’s less emotions involved, there’s less kind of universal human things you can say about a guy who just kills everybody. So, yeah, he’s not going anywhere. In fact, these numbers guarantee not only that he’s coming back to Strikeforce but that he’ll be main-eventing for Strikeforce his next fights. I guarantee they’ll find a way to do it.”

The next step in the discussion: what was the specific point where Fedor’s popularity started to grow? Was it after he lost to Werdum? The jump in viewers between last June’s fight and the fight last week is healthy. Will Fedor be able to keep those new fans in his corner if he faces the loser of Werdum/Overeem in the Summer?

JACK ENCARNACAO: “I think, really, what this comes down to is a) interest in what, I think a lot of people, honestly, TJ didn’t exactly know what Fedor was all about until he lost to Werdum. ‘All right, why is this such a huge upset, I mean I’ve heard of Fedor but what’s the big deal?’ We forget that he really didn’t even have much of a platform in the United States until he fought Brett Rogers. I mean even the Affliction fights were 100,000 (PPV) buys and were, you know, of limited audience. I mean, really, this guy has only been on terrestrial, national television, free TV if you can consider Showtime free, CBS you certain can, since November of ’09. People are just now starting to understand Fedor, I think, and the fact that he lost is even more intriguing because people want to see, ‘oh, this is the guy that I had kind of heard about that was this unstoppable force that one day will come to the UFC and dominate, but now he’s lost and what’s that mean? And this is a tournament? you know, awesome,.’ and so people tuned in. I think it’s the combination of understanding who was Fedor was suddenly in terms of the general public and then wanted to see how he rebounded from that. Plus, this idea that there’s a tournament going on led to those numbers and it’s a powerful formula.”

TJ DE SANTIS: “Right. Absolutely, I agree. We’ll see how it carries over, we’ll see how this tournament does later on because I mean that’s the thing, it seems like Scott Coker was so focused on saying, ‘well, Fedor still has a chance to come back into the tournament.’ I think the tournament’s fine. You know, if Fedor doesn’t come back (in the tournament), I still think that the interest is up on this and now that we’ve seen the numbers, I still think that, you know, Antonio Silva, Fabricio Werdum, Alistair Overeem, I think people are still interested even in they are casual fans in seeing how those guys do should they be reminded that the tournament’s happening and they just don’t completely forget about that.”

JACK ENCARNACAO: “Yeah, I think we should really separate the discussion about whether if Fedor will ever fight again with whether Fedor comes back into the tournament. I think it’s not totally unlikely that he’ll come back to the tournament but I don’t think that’s Strikeforce’s operating principle. I think their operating principle is getting him back in the main event position.”

TJ DE SANTIS: “He might definitely be on the card, he might even be in the main event spot should they find…”

JACK ENCARNACAO: “He’ll fight the loser of Overeem/Werdum, I’m almost, that seems to be the most logical as opposed to getting plugged into a tournament spot after losing. Every time it’s mentioned that he might be a tournament alternate it’s been kind of off-hand. It’s been kind of like throwing it out there, it doesn’t seem to be something that there’s a definitive plan for.”

TJ DE SANTIS: “Well, I’m telling you if I’m Shane del Rosario and I keep hearing this Fedor talk, I’m going to start speaking up. I’m going to get pissed off.”

JACK ENCARNACAO: “Yeah, I’m first alternate man, that was what that fight was all about.”

The second part of round one of the ‘tournament’ has led to some interesting questions, including one that I forgot to bring up the other day. (I am sorry about that.)

TJ brought up an interesting story involving a conversation he had with Mr. Coker at the Izod Center regarding a venue/date for the end of the first round. It’s supposed to be April 9th, but no location has been formalized. When TJ asked the promoter about this, he said that Mr. Coker got agitated and responded by saying, “You guys know where we are on Japan right now, I have nothing more to say.” He then walked away.

On Tuesday, Mauro Ranallo asked him the same question and, again, the promoter was evasive. He said that nothing was ‘solid’ regarding running a show in Japan and wouldn’t discuss his options in the States. All he said was that a decision would be made by today or tomorrow (which would make more sense given that there’s a Challengers show from Austin, Texas that will air on Showtime tomorrow night.)

The topic of Japan right now is a very touchy situation. At last month’s San Jose event, Mr. Coker was stoked about meeting Nobuyuki Sakakibara’s former right-hand man, Sotaro Shinoda. The picture and negotiations raised eyebrows amongst insiders in Japan.

(Ironic now, given that rumors of Sakakibara wanting to get back into the MMA scene are starting to surface. You don’t say.)

The promoter’s promise to run a show in Japan was a risky one, especially since a best-case scenario would give the company and Japanese operatives two months to run a show. Two months to get sponsors and book a building in Japan is very difficult. (A lot of venues in Japan want at least a three-to-six month advance window.) Plus, the Japanese partners Mr. Coker want to work with are in a weak position right now.

The problem for Mr. Coker is that he has built up expectations (again) on something that looks like it will fall through or happen but not go the way as originally planned. There is now less than two months on the calendar to promote a major show in Japan, which makes Strikeforce running in Japan almost at pipe-dream status. If they do take the gamble with this short amount of time, it would be a giant risk. Which is why I think the evasive answers on whether or not the promotion will run in Japan are revealing.

The situation in Japan is not great. Simon Rutz says K-1 is on the verge of bankruptcy. Alistair Overeem went on ESPN and said that K-1 hasn’t paid him for his Ariake Colosseum fights.

Think about this for a minute — the promotion’s preeminent event, on Fuji TV (the only network solidly backing K-1), and the promotion’s gaijin ace winning. Alistair Overeem was the guy they were going to build everything around. Remember that talk last December from both K-1 and Fuji TV? Where did Fuji TV’s money payment to K-1 go? Remember how Sherdog did a great story about Alistair Overeem and his management setting up shop with talent agency Yoshimoto in order to focus the man’s career on Japan over other countries? Within two months, all of a sudden everything has changed and Alistair says his priority is to fight in Strikeforce and the States?

Absorb all of these points and then take a look at the big picture. K-1/DREAM was always a good safety valve for Strikeforce if they wanted to send fighters over there to get work. However, when Strikeforce has a golden ace like Alistair who was doing so well in Japan and now he’s claimed to have been burned on business dealings, do you really have confidence as a promoter in working with those same business partners and trusting that you would get everything financially taken care of, should you run a show in Japan? And what’s happening to K-1 finding new money marks to start anew and do big things?

Bringing up the notion of running in Japan and having a working relationship with DREAM has probably (unexpectedly) opened up a can of worms. Intriguingly enough, Fedor was one of the few drawing cards that Strikeforce had to make some noise in Japan. What now?

Topics: DREAM, Japan, K-1, M-1, Media, MMA, StrikeForce, Zach Arnold | 5 Comments » | Permalink | Trackback |

5 Responses to “Is Fedor’s growing popularity in the States boxing him into a corner on retirement?”

  1. Chuck says:

    Coker shouldn’t even bother running Japan in April. He should just find a medium sized arena in Missouri or Nebraska or wherever else wouldn’t care about Josh Barnett being a three-time cheater and be done with it. Would Great Britain care about such things? Because I know that when UFC ran Great Britain every time they had to equip the judges and referees themselves, so Strikeforce would probably be safer running somewhere in Great Britain for the Josh Barnett fight.

  2. 45 Huddle says:

    1) A fighter can only take so meany bad losses before fans don’t care about him. Is Fedor close to that limit? He’s got to be close.

    2) What hurts Fedor is not his “popularity” but M-1. They are going to get paid for each one of his fights no matter what. So they have no incentive to tell him to retire. So really, his manager is doing the opposite of what a good manager should be doing which is look out for their clients best interests.

    3) One of the benefits of signing with Strikeforce is the ability to fight in Japan. That is no longer an option. How will that effect their future ability to sign fighters? It can’t help.

    4) Overeem not getting paid means K-1 isn’t coming back. If they planned on getting back they would have paid their stars. Being Bankrupt means nothing here. If they don’t pay their fighters, if they try to come back nobody is going to trust them and fight for them. And they know it. Which is why I think they know they aren’t coming back.

    5) I wish the better talent would all get released from DREAM or Sengoku as quickly as possible so they can start fighting again. This is one of the main reasons why I’m not in favor of all these major MMA companies. They all can’t survive. We know that. So when they fail (which always happens) it’s just a mess waiting for this to get cleared up. But I am happy with the end result. Down to 3….. And one of those is relegated to. 4th tier cable channel that has a history of getting bored with shows quickly….

    6) time to get rid of Barnett from the tournament and put Del Rosario in his place. Barnett is going to force them to work in 3 potentially smaller markets in a row due to his issues. Completely not worth it.

  3. edub says:

    I just want to know how this tournament keeps all this supposed momentum if the rounds are over 4 months apart.

    I think Fedor could still draw eyeballs. Hell he did better number after he finally had a legitimate loss. However I think the better question is should a guy who looked to be past his prime, and looked like he wanted to be anywhere but in a fight after his last loss, keep fighting? I think he should be able to work that out himself instead of (what looks like) his management and promoters forcing him back as quickly as possible.

  4. Coyote says:

    Fedor efect…. damm.

    I remember when Brock lose to cain, and the media get the focus over Brock leaving mma, same case for Fyodor.

    for that ones who say “The Urssian is done” Just remember: when Matt Hughes start to loose, he don’t miss his draw status, same for Couture or Chuck Liddell. That guys are legend’s.

    Fedor is a draw now. Live with that haters.

    Ps: I will pay for see him fighting the looser of Overeem vs Werdum 4 sure.

    About DREAM: i hear news that they are not dead. Kazuyuki Miyata say’s there’s something big behind ¿? i dont believe at all.

  5. white ninja says:

    seems simple enough – get Fedor on the 9 April card in Japan; paid for by Scott Coker : ) and Shinoda/Sakakibara and the team do a reunion event

    Scott Coker’s deepest connection to Japan was through Ken Imai who was the owner of and connection between K1 USA and K1 Japan. Of course, Ken Imai defected from K1 and became a very close operative of Sakakibara’s in the year leading up to the Pride Yakuza Scandal

    So its no surprise that Coker turns to Ken Imai’s old mates for a Japanese show

    Show would be an absolute disaster, but that doesnt matter if Coker pays for it

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